I wanna be a rock*

Brian Leiter recently linked to the rock star philosopher store. There is a lot of good stuff there, especially the titular joke. If you don’t know the joke, you should read Ted’s paper on maximal properties. (And note Ted’s snazzy icon.) The observations that maximal properties are extrinsic, and that most ordinary predicates denote maximal properties, are to my mind the biggest advances in metaphysics in the last few years, so reading this paper is worthwhile even if you’re looking for more than the context of a joke.


OPP is on short hiatus, but it will be back shortly at a new and exciting location. In the meantime, two links to postings by P. M. S. Hacker.

First, the review of Soames’s history volumes to which Soames recently replied.

Second, a wave file of the APA symposium on Hacker’s and Max Bennett’s book, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, with Daniel Dennett and John Searle as critics. Note that this file is 42MB, so it might take a while to download. If I had more technical skills and gumption I would download it, convert it to an MP3 file, and post that to save all the bandwidth. But I don’t.

Hat tip to John Oberdiek for that link.


Frank Jackson has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia in today’s Australia Day Honours list (PDF link). Here is the citation.

For service to education, particularly in the disciplines of philosophy and social sciences as an academic, administrator and researcher.

This is one of the highest official honours an Australian civilian can receive, and Frank is I believe the first philosopher for many years to be so honoured. (The awards are explained at greater length here.) It is of course highly deserved. Congratulations Frank! Or, to be more precise, congratulations Frank Cameron Jackson AO!

Thanks to Michael Smith for passing this information along.

PodCasting Lectures

This is pretty cool.

Don’t be so sure anymore that a “podcast” user is merely taking in the latest hit tune or yesterday’s show of Howard Stern railing about something or other. For in last week’s list of 32 “notable” podcasts featured on the web site of the Apple iTunes Music Store you can find not only hot soap operas and popular music but also the 15 lectures that comprise UCSD’s Philosophy 10 course, “Introduction to Logic.” Taught by Associate Professor of Philosophy Rick Grush and offered in the fall, winter and spring, Phil 10 draws up to 300 students each quarter.

I probably should be doing the same thing with my 101 lectures. Sadly, I’m not enough of a geek to figure out how to do this. (No really, I only play a geek on the interweb.) Anyway, congrats to Professor Grush for getting this recognition.

Via Daily Phil.

Nolan on Stoic Gunk

Here at TAR we rarely highlight ancient philosophy, but every generalisation is made to be broken.

Daniel Nolan, Stoic Gunk,
forthcoming in Phronesis

The surviving sources on the Stoic theory of division reveal that the Stoics, particularly Chrysippus, believed that bodies, places and times were such that all of their parts themselves had proper parts. That is, bodies, places and times were composed of gunk. This realisation helps solve some long-standing puzzles about the Stoic theory of mixture and the Stoic attitude to the present.

Here are some other papers that you might like to have a look at.

Ralph Wedgwood, Contextualism and Moral Beliefs

In this paper, I shall first outline a version of epistemological contextualism. I shall present this version of contextualism as a contextualist account of terms like ‘justified belief’, rather than terms like ‘knowledge’. (If justification is a necessary condition for knowledge, this contextualist account of ‘justified belief’ would naturally lead to a parallel contextualist account of ‘knowledge’; but I shall not address the question of whether justification is necessary for knowledge here.) Unlike most contextualists, I do not claim that my version of contextualism will help to solve any challenging sceptical paradoxes; but I shall argue that this version of contextualism can nonetheless shed light on some other epistemological issues, focusing especially on an issue that arises about the justification of moral beliefs.

Ryan Wasserman and David Manley, A Gradable Approach to Dispositions

Previous theories of the relationship between dispositions and conditionals are unable to account for the fact that dispositions come in degrees. We propose a fix for this problem that has the added benefit of avoiding the classic problems of finks and masks.

——, On Linking Dispositions with Conditionals

We introduce a dilemma that faces any analysis of dispositional ascriptions in terms of subjunctive conditionals. However carefully the relevant conditionals are formulated, the analysis will founder either on the problem of accidental closeness or on the problem of Achilles’ heels. The dilemma arises even for sophisticated versions of the conditional analysis that are designed to avoid the familiar problems of finks and masks. We conclude by evaluating the prospects for an analysis and offering a proposal of our own.

Scott Soames, Hacker’s Complaint forthcoming in Philosophical Quarterly

Thanks to the editors for asking me to reply to P.M.S. Hacker’s review of my Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century. I begin with his complaint about the materials I chose to discuss.

“In its selection of materials it is unrepresentative: significant figures are omitted and pivotal works are not discussed… the book is less a history of analytic philosophy than a series of critical essays on select figures and a few of their works, often chosen primarily to substantiate a thesis that is erroneous.”

Since no erroneous theses leading to indefensible choices about what material to include are identified, I will try to tease this out as we go.


Still working through the emails I have to deal with, but in the meantime two interesting links.

Now that Science Blogs has started up, I found a new (to me) philosophy blog, Adventures in Ethics and Science. It’s by Janet D. Stemwedel, and you can get a sense for her work by perusing her greatest hits post.

Back in the centre of the known universe, the philosophy in the pub series has expanded into a Melbourne Thinkers Week festival. Philosophers including Graham Priest, Steve Curry, Rob Sparrow and many others will be doing events including public lectures, philosophy cafes, corporate ethics events, book launches and a philosophy panel. Check it out if you’re in Melbourne, or if you live somewhere less fortunate, have a look to see if this kind of public philosophy event may be replicable in your postcode.


I’m not going to have great net access for a while, so I’ve closed off comments on all the old posts to prevent the site being covered in spam when I get back. I’ve left the last two threads, both of which seem fairly active, open for now so I hope that’s not too big a target for the spammers to hit.

Some Links

Wo posts a new paper, Lewisian Meaning Without Naturalness arguing against an interpretation of Lewis’s theory of meaning that has been promoted by Ted Sider, Robert Stalnaker, and me. (At least if I’m wrong I’m in good company!) Well worth reading closely.

Sappho’s Breathing links to Edge’s World Question Centre which each year asks an open-ended question, in this case “What is your dangerous idea?”. Cleis notes that of the 117 luminaries they get to answer the question, only 11 are female. This isn’t a very good effort on their part at getting a good cross-representation. Sadly, their representation of non-whites, or even of us southern hemisphereans, isn’t great either.

Prosblogion links to this article on ID in the South Bend Tribune featuring a few Notre Dame philosophers. One lowlight is this contribution from Alvin Plantinga.

But, Plantinga asked and answered, who should decide what children are taught in schools? Parents. According to Plantinga, the majority of people are against the form of unguided evolution that says life as we have it “arose without the benefit of divine design.”

Well this is an indirect quote, so we should give Plantinga the benefit of the doubt that what he said isn’t as absurd as what he’s reported as having said. And I’d bet most of the biology books Plantinga is (implicitly) criticising don’t say that life arose without divine design, but instead say how life arose in a way that is (a) true, (b) doesn’t require a divine designer, and perhaps© leaves it a little mysterious why a designer would have chosen this means. But that’s very different from teaching there is no divine origin to the world. And let’s still note something else wrong with what’s reported.

Imagine a mythical community that takes the passages in the bible indicating that pi equals 3 so seriously that they insist this be taught in maths classes. (Or, more relevantly, that 51% of the community thinks this.) By Plantinga’s lights the parents should get to insist that in their students’ maths texts, pi equals 3 is to be taught. Now two interesting questions arise.

  1. Is there any grounds for supporting the parents’ right to have ID taught that wouldn’t extend to a right to these mythical parents to have pi equals 3 taught?
  1. Would it do more intellectual damage to (a) teach that the broadly Darwinian story about the development of species is false or (b) teach that the broadly Lambertian story about the irrationality of pi is false?

I think the answers are ‘no’ and (a). I also think that’s a reductio of Plantinga’s (reported) position, but your mileage may vary. There is a hard political philosophy problem around here, the problem of the outvoted democrat, but I’ll leave off at this.


So at the APA I was planning to attend this session on epistemic modals featuring Kai von Fintel, Thony Gillies and John MacFarlane. Unfortunately events intervened and Kai couldn’t make it. For better or worse, the organisers decided that it would be best if someone else, namely me, presented Kai’s paper. This kind of thing isn’t unusual at APAs, people often read out other people’s papers, but in this case I just had the slides to go off. Fortunately they were very good slides, as you can see here, and combined with some guidance from Thony and Andy Egan, I was able to stumble through fairly easily. I even learned something interesting from the paper.

Imagine the following situation. I’m standing in the hotel lobby, on the phone to Andy who is back in his room. I see some people coming in from outside with wet umbrellas and water dripping off their clothes. It seems I can say either (1) or (2) to Andy. (I assume he’s not looking out his window, so weather news is really news to him.)

(1) It must be raining.
(2) It is raining.

Now change the situation a little. I don’t say anything to Andy on seeing the wet people, but wait until I step outside, then report. Now (2) is OK, but (1) seems dubious. So in this context we have

(1) #It must be raining.
(2) It is raining.

It seems that (1) is not a proper assertion when I have direct visual knowledge of the rain. Philosophers (at least philosophers of my acquaintance) usually take the difference between (1) and (2) to be that (1) is only true if someone salient knows that it is raining. But it seems that (1) requires more, namely that the knowledge is somewhat indirect.

That’s what Kai suggested in the paper. I had various long discussions with Andy Egan, Kenny Easwaran and others about what might count as direct and indirect knowledge. The upshot seemed to be when it comes to perception, most anything except direct visual inspection counts as indirect, which is somewhat interesting.

But the most interesting thing I heard was a point that Ishani made. It seems that for the purposes of this exercise at least, testimonial knowledge counts as direct knowledge. (This contradicts the chart that Kai quotes in his slides.) To see this, imagine that Ishani tells me that the Packers won, and I thereby come to know that the Packers won, and Andy doesn’t know this. It seems I can use (4) but not (3).

(3) #The Packers must have won.
(4) The Packers won.

Note that I can say something like (5).

(5) Ishani said that Packers won, and she’s always right about these things, so the Packers must have won.

It is just standalone (3) that seems odd. But this isn’t really a distinction with (1)/(2), because it doesn’t sound too much worse to say (6).

(6) I have a visual impression of heavy rain, and my visual impressions are always reliable, so it must be raining.

Well, (6) isn’t great, but neither is (5) if Ishani’s reliability about football is something that is too obvious to mention (as it is).

Anyway, I now think I’ve learned two things in under a week. First, English has evidential terms. Second, the ‘swamp epistemology’ of English groups (at least for these purposes) visual observation and testimony together, and separate from inference, and (arguably) non-visual perception. That’s quite a lot to learn from looking at a few small pairs like that.